Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan was developed in China during the Tang Dynasty, about a thousand years ago. It derived from the three philosophies of Chinese culture; Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Each of these three philosophies have their own way or path to achieve enlightenment.
Tai Chi Chuan can be translated into English as the big or great (Tai), includes everything or is everywhere (Chi), way or path (Chuan). It is a so called ‘internal system’ or Nei Chia which usually includes Hsing I Chuan and Ba Gua Zhang making up a family of three martial arts. Hsing I uses the Five Elements or changes and Ba Gua the Eight Gua, respectively for their base principles, whereas Tai Chi includes both.
There are many types or styles of Tai Chi, but though they may look different the only thing that is important is that they incorporate the principles of Tai Chi or internal-movement. The internal systems are also known as boxing for health or boxing with the feet and sometimes “sitting on the chair”.
The rationale was “self-defence” or to protect the self from the environment and sickness. The original principles conform to those used in Chinese Medicine and at an advanced level Tai Chi includes meditation.
Through the diligent practice of Tai Chi we can achieve harmony and balance between and within ourselves, and our environment. As with most things in life, you will get out of Tai Chi Chuan what you put in to it and the ideal is to make it your life path and guiding principle.
The study of Tai Chi also includes the practice of Chi Kung. This means simply working with the chi. Chi is the main factor in the internal arts and is often referred to as energy, however this is incorrect. Energy comes from the operation of chi and there are 84,000 types of chi in the human body. The universe has more. The human body is like one large chemical factory wherein food and oxygen are processed to maintain the organism. Chi is the managerial factor. If the chi is in harmony and balance then the factory will run smoothly and efficiently.
The Tai Chi Form
Originally Tai Chi utilized stationary positions or forms, these were known as the Thirteen Postures. The practitioner assumed one posture and then stood still for an hour or two. Once the principles of chi and stillness had been grasped, the practitioner began to link the postures into what has become known as The Form. However times have changed and it is the norm today to first teach the moving form and then the student can hold selected postures if they so choose to do so.
Each style of Tai Chi has a different looking form. The different styles were usually named after the master who originated the style, as a mark of respect.
In the Yang style, the most widely practiced form is the so-called ‘Short Form’ which takes about 6 minutes to do as one round. The form may be done as many times as you wish. Three to six or more rounds are best.
The Yang system is named after the Yang family who passed it down in the male line for several centuries. In the early part of this century Chen Man Ching was accepted as a student of the Yang family in Mainland China. Chen was a scholar of note and a doctor of Chinese medicine. He studied with Yang Cheng Fu for about 7 years and then began to teach in his own right. Traditionally the form practiced was the so-called Long-Form and took about 20 minutes to complete one round. Chen eventually modified the form and made it shorter, hence the name Short-Form. When asked why he changed it, Chen Man Ching replied that the short form was the long form.
At the end of the civil war Chen moved to the island of Formosa where he practiced and taught Chinese medicine and Tai Chi. He taught in New York from the mid-sixties until the mid-seventies. His students in the USA then spread Tai Chi all over the country and his style is now widely practiced all over the world. He died in 1976 in Taiwan. It is still known as Yang Style in honour of Yang Chen Fu.
The practice of Tai Chi Chuan benefits the metabolism of the body, and adjusts the nervous system. Tai Chi also integrates and harmonizes the breathing and circulation, as well as harmonizing the function of the muscles and the internal organs. The intense concentration needed to do Tai Chi prevents the mind from staying involved with everyday thoughts, at least for a while, so that after practice the mind and emotions have also had a break and can see things from a better perspective.
It is beneficial for high cholesterol, arthritis, rheumatism, hypertension, anemia, insomnia and digestion. The body becomes strong and flexible in a way that is different to most other types of exercise. For more information on the medical benefits of Tai Chi view read here.
Self-defense comes first from protecting the self from the environment and helping it to co-operate or evolve with it and survive. Through the practice of Tai Chi one learns to relax. Relaxation, concentration and without energy, is how it should be practiced. By relaxing the body it allows the nervous system to work optimally to ensure smooth running of the body-functions. Through the correct practice of Tai Chi the legs become very strong and this has affects on the strength and condition of the heart and subsequently the circulation.
The Ten Important Points for Tai Chi Chuan
• The energy at the top of the head should be light and sensitive.
• Sink the chest and raise the back.
• Relax the waist.
• Distinguish full and empty.
• Sink the shoulders and drop the elbow.
• Use the mind and not strength.
• Unity of the upper and lower body.
• The unity of internal and external.
• Continuity without interruption.
• Seek stillness in movement.
Yang Chen-Fu’s Oral Transmission To Cheng Man-Ch’ing
• Distinguish full and empty.
• The light and sensitive energy at the top of the head.
• The millstone turns but the mind does not turn.
• Grasp sparrow’s tail is like using a saw.
• I am not a meathook, why are you hanging on me?
• When pushed one does not topple like a punching bag doll.
• The ability to issue energy.
• In moving our posture, it should be balanced, upright, uniform and even.
• One must execute techniques correctly.
• Repelling a thousand pounds with four ounces.
Commentary on Tai Chi Chuan
As soon as one moves the entire body should be light and sensitive and all its parts connected. The chi should be roused and the spirit gathered within. Do not allow gaps, do not allow bulges or hollows, do not allow discontinuities. The root is in the feet, energy issues up through the legs, is controlled by the waist and is expressed in the hands and fingers. From the feet to the legs to the waist should be one complete flow of chi. One will then be able to seize opportunities and occupy the superior position. If one is unable to seize opportunities and gain the superior position, the body will be scattered and in confusion. Look for weakness in the waist and the legs. The same is true for above and below, front and back, left and right. All of this has to do with the mind and not with externals. If there is an above there must be a below, if there is fore, there must be a rear and if there is a left there must be a right. If the intention is to rise one must pay attention to below. If you want to lift something, you must apply breaking power, in this way its root will be severed and its destruction will be swift and inevitable. Full and empty should be clearly distinguished. Any given point has the potential for full and empty and the whole body has this dual aspect: full and empty. All the joints of the body should be connected without permitting the slightest break. Doing the form. It must be like a river and like an ocean wave, no discontinuities. The whole form includes ward-off, roll-back, pull-down, split, elbow-stroke, shoulder-stroke, advance, retreat, gaze left, look right and central equilibrium.
The Taoist Chang Sang-Feng wrote this commentary.
If the people wish to live long and healthy lives, this is not only for defense but also an art.
Keeping in one
Since the beginning of time Humankind has asked itself one question. Why are we here? Humankind has used philosophy, religion, science and many other methods to try and answer this question. In order to arrive at the answer we need to incorporate religion, philosophy and science. If we shift too far to one of the three the confusion sets in. Many philosophers have tried to explain the meaning of life and failed. In ancient China and India some people came to this realisation and started practising meditation to explain this question. What is the meaning of life? What is going on? Through their accumulated experience they found a technique to answer and prove this question.
At a certain level this technique was called keep in one or Tai Chi. This became the basic principle of meditation. Tai Chi means no starting point and no ending. Whatever happens around you, your environment or circumstances, they must not be allowed to influence this keeping in one. The things that are going on around us must not be allowed to distract your mind from keeping in one place. Whatever happens around you, your mind is not allowed to move.
The above Taoist and Buddhist technique is the main practise in understanding life’s enigmas. The more things change the more they stay the same. Nothing changes, just the conditions change.